Decision Making through Integration of Sensory Evidence at Prolonged Timescales

Michael L. Waskom, Roozbeh Kiani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When multiple pieces of information bear on a decision, the best approach is to combine the evidence provided by each one. Evidence integration models formalize the computations underlying this process [1–3], explain human perceptual discrimination behavior [4–9], and correspond to neuronal responses elicited by discrimination tasks [10–14]. These findings suggest that evidence integration is key to understanding the neural basis of decision making [15–18]. But while evidence integration has most often been studied with simple tasks that limit deliberation to relatively brief periods, many natural decisions unfold over much longer durations. Neural network models imply acute limitations on the timescale of evidence integration [19–23], and it is currently unknown whether existing computational insights can generalize beyond rapid judgments. Here, we introduce a new psychophysical task and report model-based analyses of human behavior that demonstrate evidence integration at long timescales. Our task requires probabilistic inference using brief samples of visual evidence that are separated in time by long and unpredictable gaps. We show through several quantitative assays how decision making can approximate a normative integration process that extends over tens of seconds without accruing significant memory leak or noise. These results support the generalization of evidence integration models to a broader class of behaviors while posing new challenges for models of how these computations are implemented in biological networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3850-3856.e9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 3 2018


  • computational modeling
  • decision making
  • integration time constant
  • probabilistic inference
  • psychophysics
  • sequential sampling
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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